Creativity across Learning #6 – How can leaders promote and support creativity?

This sixth post in the series comes again from the unpublished draft of 2011 as noted in the earlier posts. It asks how can leaders go about transforming the culture in their establishments so that everyone promotes creativity in learning, and how do we support them to do so? 

Courage is the first of human virtues because it makes all others possible.

The conduct of schools, based upon a new order of conception, is so much more difficult than is the management of schools which walk the beaten path.
(John Dewey)

Whilst everyone appears to agree that effective school leadership is an essential pre-requisite for educational success, the discourse on what counts as ‘effective’ is often contradictory.  Educational leaders are encouraged to be visionary, courageous, adaptive and creative but also open, trusting, collegiate and collaborative. They are encouraged to lead from the front, but also be prepared to distribute authority, embrace different approaches and facilitate others taking the lead. They are required to be enabling and trusting yet uncompromising when it comes to protecting core values.

Leading in the public sector is thus inherently complex, involving multiple stakeholders and with no single measure of success. It is all too easy to play safe, passing the buck to inspectors, local authorities or qualifications bodies for crushing ambition rather than to risk making a mistake in the attempt to lead in times of uncertainty and under conditions where ambiguity is here to stay.

There are, as Heifetz argues, ‘no easy answers‘ in leadership when we are faced with ‘adaptive challenges’ such as leading learning in turbulent times. Leaders at all levels in an organisation – including managers, practitioners and learners – have a role and a responsibility to support creativity. Leaders need to provide a clear vision for their establishments where a culture of creativity is nurtured, supported and celebrated. They need to present a consistent philosophy and be positive and supportive.  It is becoming commonplace to state it, but they have to model that which they demand from others. We are all judged more by our actions than our words, and we will not have creative learners or teachers if they do not see the associated qualities in their leaders.

For this to happen, decision-making must be visible and collaborative. Leaders have to offer permissions and accept that not all responses to these will be absolutely successful. Their role is to ensure that the needs and entitlements of learners are met and that innovation does not put that at risk. In short, they need to assess risk rather than avoid it, and create a climate where care and risk are in balance rather than in conflict. Leaders also need to manage change as an adaptive rather than just a technical process, drawing on the most effective practice from within and also from beyond education. The reasons and purposes for change need to be internalised or ‘absorbed’ by teachers for any long-term sustainable improvement in performance to be realised.

School leaders need to recognise that in the end the professional judgement of the teacher should remain central: in Lawrence Stenhouse’s words, ‘…. it is the task of all educationists outside the classroom to serve the teachers, for only they are in a position to create good teaching’. This also applies to all who work with practitioners including education authorities, inspectors and Scottish Government.

[Next post looks at the role of professional learning in the promotion of creativity.]  


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